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Thursday, July 13, 2017

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

The sticky web of denial and deception surrounding the Trump campaign’s contacts with Russian officials and their go-betweens grew larger this week.

For many months now, President Trump and his aides flatly denied they received or sought assistance or support from Russia in his 2016 campaign against Hillary Clinton.


Mr. Trump repeatedly dismissed such reports as a “witch hunt” and “fake news” invented by a liberal news media seeking to topple him from power.

But the West Wing’s defensive strategy rapidly began to unravel this week when it was reported that Donald Trump Jr., the president’s oldest son, had a meeting last year on June 9 in New York’s Trump Tower with a Kremlin-connected attorney who was said to have information that would hurt Mrs. Clinton’s candidacy.

Others in the Trump campaign who attended the June 2016 meeting included the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and campaign chairman Paul Manafort.

But the back story on this undisclosed meeting was even darker. The New York Times, which broke the news, reported that Mr. Trump Jr. had been told in an email that the Russian attorney’s information was part of a plan by Moscow to help his father’s presidential campaign.

Earlier this year, Mr. Trump Jr. denied in an interview with The New York Times that he had participated in a “set-up” meeting with a Russian. But after he learned that the Times was about to run a story on his meeting with the attorney, Natalia Veselnitskaya, he began to unfold several contradictory explanations about how it came about.

At first he said it was about Vladimir’s Putin’s ban on Americans adopting Russian children. Then, later, he said she claimed to have damaging information on Hillary.

In the end, Mr. Trump Jr. said Ms. Veselnitskaya failed to live up to her promises to deliver any damaging dirt on Hillary and that “it quickly became clear that she had no meaningful information.”

Nevertheless, it became apparent that, contrary to the White House vows that there was no “collusion” with the Russians to help Mr. Trump, the meeting proved his campaign was more than willing to accept whatever assistance the Russians could give them to defeat Mrs. Clinton.

The plot thickened when it was learned that the meeting was set up by Emin Agalarov, a Russian pop star, whose father, Aras Agalarov, is a well-connected Moscow real estate magnate who is close to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Mr. Agalarov sponsored Mr. Trump’s Miss Universe pageant in Russia in 2013. He also had a deal to build a Trump Tower in Moscow that has been put on hold.

Among the emails to and from Donald Jr., in the run up to the secret Trump Tower meeting, was this one on June 3, 2016 from Rob Goldstone, the publicist for Emin Agalarov:

“This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.”

Mr. Trump Jr.’s reply that same day: “Seems we have some time and if it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer.”

Mr. Goldstone sent this email on June 7, 2016: “Emin asked that I schedule a meeting with you and the Russian government attorney who is flying over from Moscow for this Thursday.”

One month after Mr. Trump Jr. met with Ms. Veselnitskaya, he said in an interview with CNN that it was “disgusting” and “phony” for anyone to suggest that the Russians were trying to help his father’s campaign.

He then told The New York Times in March that he did have meetings with Russians, but there were “certainly none” where he “was representing the campaign in any way, shape or form.”

But it is going to be very difficult if not impossible for Mr. Trump Jr. to make that case before the battery of House and Senate investigating committees, and the Justice Department’s Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s broader probe into whether there was collusion between Moscow and Mr. Trump’s campaign.

Did Donald Jr.’s dad know about his June 9 meeting at that time?

Well, two days before his son met Ms. Vesselnitskaya, his father announced that he would soon deliver “a major speechdiscussing all of the things [that] have taken place with the Clintons. I think you’re going to find it very, very interesting.”

This week, the Reuters news service boiled down the simple set of facts that is at stake here:

Donald Trump Jr. [had a] meeting with a woman he was told was a Russian government lawyer who had incriminating information about Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton that could help his father’s presidential campaign”

Donald Lambro is a syndicated columnist and contributor to The Washington Times.


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